A group of about 170 lay leaders and supporters from Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) recently returned from a seven-day trip in Israel
to show their support and appreciation, in person, to the women and men of the IDF.
FIDF was established in 1981 by a group of Holocaust survivors to provide financial support for the education and well-being of IDF soldiers and the families of fallen soldiers. It’s created about a dozen programs to support many aspects of a soldier’s military experience, including before, during and after his or her time of service.
“[Mission participants] directly see the impact of their support,” said Dr. Philip Berry, regional executive director for the Midatlantic FIDF chapter. “It’s important for the [soldiers] to understand they’re not just protecting Jews in Israel but Jews worldwide and also non-Jews — a strong growth point within the organization — and for them to know that there are people thousands of miles away who care so deeply for their well-being.”
The group visited several bases and met with dignitaries such as Israel’s newly elected President Reuven Rivlin and Lt. Gen. Benjamin Gantz, IDF chief of the general staff.
This was the sixth mission for Bobby Cohen, chairman of the Washington, D.C., FIDF chapter.
“This mission was really about the soldiers who fought in Gaza, their stories and their bravery,” said Cohen, 70, of Potomac. “At every dinner there were soldiers on crutches and with broken arms, but every single one wanted to get back to their units. That’s how unbelievably brave the kids are and how unbelievably positive the country was in supporting them in the war.”
The group visited the newest IDF base being built in the Negev desert, an artillery base, an intelligence base, a navy base and an air force base complete with close-up views of F-16 aircraft.
Berry, who became involved with FIDF about two-and-a-half years ago when his son joined the Israeli military, said what really stood out during the visit was “the number of kids from around the world who volunteer and serve in the IDF” and that they “are so young but have such responsibilities compared with kids in the U.S., like commanding Iron Dome [batteries] and patrol boats.”
Cohen said a highlight for him is the opportunity to support the IMPACT program, which provides 1,000 academic scholarships per year to soldiers in need. At a final banquet gala, the group met some of the scholarship recipients.
“We met two of our soldiers,” said Cohen, who donates to the program with his wife, Lorraine. “[One of them] grabbed me around the neck and started crying. He’s studying to be an accountant. He wouldn’t let me go; he wouldn’t stop crying.”